Monday 22 February 2016

Human and humane, Stephen Payne's Pattern beyond chance

There are a several poets who use science as a tool, who drop jargon or data into their verse as if lending it substance, who spiral away from their subjects in technical reverie,  but there are very few who are capable of harnessing science in their poetry like Stephen Payne in Pattern beyond chance (HappenStance Press, 2015).

Payne is a scientist with a keen interest in human behaviour and thought-processes. In his verse, human thus become humane. One such example occurs in the final lines of “Journey Home”:

“In company, the conversation changes pace.
Alone, the mind gives itself away,
clicking into calm, or else unease”.

There’s a deeply analytical approach at work in this poem. Observations pick up on mechanical changes (as in speed of dialogue) or employ verbs with technical connotations such as “click”, all within an underlying context of feelings like “calm” or “unease”. In other words, Payne is ensuring that science is at the service of deeply humane poetry.

The best poems in Pattern beyond chance focus on honed and heightened instants and incidents. These might be specific to Payne, but his deft touch engages us, provoking our own memories. Our childhood Christmas presents, our maths teachers at school, our choice of a PIN and our afore-mentioned routine journey home are all invoked in the process of inclusion.

And then we encounter Payne’s terrific “Given Name”, which portrays our name: our parents’ choice of it, their use of it, the ramifications it has throughout our life, the meaning we load onto it, as in the poem’s closing lines:

“…and hearing in it the voice of the young woman
who called me from my sleep those school-day mornings.”

Thanks to Stephen Payne’s poems in Pattern beyond chance, the reader is renewed and refreshed. In the midst of the grey days, weeks and months of winter, I can think of few greater compliments.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Matthew

    I think that there should be more science in poetry. Tom Lehrer has shown us the way with his comic song 'The Elements'. As for names, I'm always fascinated by people like Elton John who change their names and do much better under their invented moniker than hitherto.

    Best wishes from Simon R. Gladdish